The midpoint of the academic year always brings a special opportunity for learners. Now is the time to check in on goals set at the start of the year, update progress based on a substantial set of earned grades, and make new, reasonable commitments for the second half of the year. While most students can offer surface self-reflections on their learning, committing to deep reflections that generate new thinking is a difficult skill. It can take years to acquire and refine this self-management. If this process is new to you or your child, here is a three-step process to jump start your mid-year reflections.
Step 1: Start with this question. What is your answer?
Step 2: Look at your answer. Think about how you have positioned yourself for learning. Which answers are most in your control? The first two – grades and the teacher – are mostly outside your control, while the other three are factors you can control and change.
As part of the culture of curiosity, one of our goals is to teach our students how to influence and improve their own learning. Educators call this student agency. I like to call this being the executive director of your own learning. It’s not that the teacher and the grades don’t influence learning – they do – but what’s critical is the realization that what impacts your learning the most is what you have control over, such as finding an interest in the subject or increasing your level of effort in or out of class.
For students at Moravian Academy, learning how to be the executive director of your own learning is particularly important. Our students are engaged in rigorous, challenging, and ambitious learning that, at some point, will cause them to encounter setbacks or challenges. Our goal is to teach our students how to adjust their strategies based on factors they can control, starting with: increasing their efforts outside of class, reviewing notes, or meeting individually with teachers.
Step 3: Surround yourself with peers and teachers who also understand this. Learners of all ages, but particularly young adults, adjust their habits to fit the expectations of what they see around them. And because most of the world seems to measure success based solely on comparisons and competition, these beliefs about self-control of learning can seem unorthodox. This is why finding a school that immerses young people in a learning culture is essential. The demands of the wider world remain, but students also learn that being curious, being interested in school, and taking ownership of your learning are expected and assumed.
At our school, the vast majority of students (72%) believe that they have the greatest influence on their own learning. This reinforces the expectations for each other. Teachers understand that to improve learning, we have to help students tap into increased effort and interest. This is why we believe it is essential to teach for understanding, not just retention. Application, synthesis, connecting dots, looking for patterns, creating expressions and models of understanding – these are the tasks that lead to superior learning.
And for the Moravian Academy students who are already using this mentality, here’s the next step: know this about yourself and leverage it. Facing a challenge, tap into your internal motivation to make a change. What can you do to find something in the course that truly interests you? What can you do to work smarter, not just harder? This often leads to ways to maximize your efforts during class. Write your questions down while working on your own and choose the best two to ask in class. How can you collaborate with others to externalize your thinking? If you can explain it to someone else, then you are really understanding it.
When people ask me what will be different as a result of the culture of curiosity vision, I often tell them that students will be more prepared to successfully drive their own learning. This starts with immersing students in the expectations to be active, curious learners. When students understand these expectations come from everyone around them, they will increasingly take on active learning postures even during class time. As we already experience at Moravian, when classrooms reflect more who our students are and what they are doing to drive their own learning, more students sustain their efforts longer, ask themselves more challenging questions, and motivate themselves to learn at a deeper level. In the future, for instance, more students may rank “my level of effort in class” as the prime influencer of their learning.